25 Things We Have Learned #BrownBag25





We officially turned 25 this month and we spent some time looking back over the years - a whole quarter of a century, would you believe - and thought this would be a good time to share some of the valuable lessons we’ve learned in the animation industry along the way.

1. You have to love what you do to succeed

If you are truly passionate about and love animation you will get that job, make that short film, finish that online course… and so on, and so forth. A career in animation isn’t always easy, whether you work in a studio or as a freelancer or you’ve just borrowed £2000 from your mammy and dropped out of college to set up your own company ;)

But it is absolutely worth it if it's something you really, truly love.

Cathal Gaffney and Darragh O'Connell paying back their mammies, 2014
Cathal Gaffney and Darragh O'Connell paying back their mammies, 2014

2. Be adaptable

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives,

not the most intelligent that survives.

It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.”

― Charles Darwin

The animation industry is fast-paced and constantly evolving. We’ve had to adapt to changes pretty quickly and be accepting of those changes. We started out in 1994 doing hand-painted cel animations. The animation landscape today is a far cry from those days and in another few years, it may be drastically different yet again. The way content is consumed is also rapidly shifting and changing and it’s imperative now more than ever to be flexible and adaptive.

3. Be nice

Firstly, it never hurts to be nice. Working in such a fast-paced environment can be stressful and demanding and there will always be heaps of competition but it’s important to be kind to your fellow peers.

And secondly, this industry is a lot smaller worldwide than you might think, and people remember first impressions. You will be working with many of the same people time and time again, and may often return to the same studio. The animation industry is a revolving door of familiar faces. But it's not hard to be nice to other animation nerds, we’ve got plenty in common!

4. Never stop learning

When you’re starting out, learn as much as you can, become a sponge, and show your work to your teachers, classmates, colleagues as often as you can. Keep working on your reel, continue to up-skill and get constructive feedback from your peers. Technology and techniques in the industry are constantly evolving so never let yourself become complacent. Look for tutorials online, the internet is full of awesome tips and tricks from industry professionals - and plenty of it is FREE!

Even 10 or 20 years into your career you will still be learning!

Workshop with the fantastic Aaron Blaise! (From earlier today!)
Workshop with the fantastic Aaron Blaise! (From earlier today!)

5. Draw, draw, draw… then draw some more

Working in animation means drawing A LOT!

If it’s something you’re interested in getting into then take life-drawing classes and doodle every day. Study movement and acting. Consider taking online courses if possible. Let drawing become a part of your daily life. Understanding line, weight, and form are cornerstones of a skilled artist. Only through doing will you improve. Also, drawing is incredibly fun so grab yourself a sketchbook and pencil and enjoy!

6. Share your work with the world

Don't be scared to share your work with the world. Whether it’s a work-in-progress, a 2D sketch or a finished short film, it’s important to put it out there. You will never please everyone but it’s good to get feedback.

7. You gotta learn to take criticism well

Be open to notes and feedback and understand that you are learning with every critique you get so don't get disheartened. It's important to get feedback from your peers and mentors and to also give feedback as this trains your eye in noticing errors in your work.

8. Teamwork is key

Creating animation is an incredibly technical and collaborative process. The sense that everyone is working towards a common goal makes coming to work a lot easier and enjoyable. We count ourselves very lucky to work with some of the best talent in the industry. If our artists find themselves stuck on a problem they know they can reach out for help, and they will get it.

9. Everyone hates deadlines… but they are a pretty good incentive to complete your work

Timing is pretty challenging for every artist. There will never be enough hours in a day.

In the business world, you won't have time to suffer from “artist block”! And you won’t have forever and a day to finesse your work - you have to make compromises between what's got to be done and the deadlines that production set, all while trying to achieve the best quality that you can. Having a firm deadline helps reign you in and stops you from endlessly perusing Pinterest boards and YouTube videos.

10. Staying motivated can be challenging, remember to take breaks and reignite your creativity

Staying motivated on version 147 of your shot can be a challenge. If there is one thing you are guaranteed it's notes and changes. Be open to critique and remember that it's all part of the process. There are seemingly infinite ways a character can be animated but the challenging part is getting the personality right for the shot and the overall show. Sometimes you’ll just need to get away from something and come back to it with fresh eyes.

11. You might not get the job you want straight away but work hard and it will come

It is important for new graduates or anyone looking to get into the animation industry to be persistent. Young artists or new graduates should not be disheartened if they do not get the first job they have applied for when they leave college. We have staff who have come to us from various backgrounds, many who have switched roles or changed careers. There is no one absolute path! It can sometimes take a while to get your foot in the door but if you put in the hours it will happen.

12. Taking time to relax can be a challenge!

When your passion and favourite hobby become your job, it's hard to let it all go and focus on unwinding. For many of our artists, art used to be the thing they did to unwind after school/work.

It’s good to cultivate a few different hobbies outside of your regular work to help you take a break when you need it.

13. You make friends with cake… and beer

Artists love doughnuts, cookies, cakes, chocolates and any other free treats (don’t we all?). It’s always a great pick-me-up on a Monday morning when a fellow colleague has brought in some delicious home-baked goodies to share. We also find a bake sale for a good cause always goes down well in the studio. And added bonus, we discovered our artists are also pretty darn good bakers! Our Social Committee also does a great job of luring us away from our desks on a Friday to unwind with our peers and partake in a few free drinks.

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14. You NEVER get tired of hearing the stories or seeing the fanart from the kids who watch your work!!!

Seeing fan mail from kids who watch the shows makes all the blood, sweat and tears worth it. Realising the impact that the shows we work on have on their lives is incredibly satisfying.

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We recently came across a story about a four-year-old girl called Noa who requested to dress up and do a school report on Bessie Coleman, the first woman of African American descent to hold a pilots license, whom she was introduced to while watching an episode of Doc McStuffins! Her work was so impressive that the National Aviation Hall of Fame flew Noa and her family to Ohio to meet Bessie Coleman's great-niece, Gigi Coleman!

We also got a thank you note from a parent once about how Octonauts had helped her six-year-old daughter identify the venomous cone snail and protect her younger siblings and cousins!

I just wanted to give a heartfelt THANK YOU. Sent all the way from a little town called Humpty Doo, Australia. I took my kids all 3 of whom are epic Octonauts fans to the beach. After a great play, I heard shouts from my 6-year-old not to touch. They had discovered a Cone Snail. I am still trying to get the species identified by our Parks and Wildlife here but apparently, these are ALL venomous. Some deadly. 

My six year old stopped her little brother and sister along with her younger cousins (5 & 3) from touching the snail. She told me she knew it was venomous from watching Octonauts. I am so proud of her. So thank you! A great little tv show for kids and very possibly a lifesaver!

- Jennah

15. Great stories are at the heart of great animations

Learn how to tell a great story. Once you’ve got this skill everything else is gravy!

16. Animation is NOT a genre!

Even though plenty of film festivals would have you think otherwise. Animation is a medium, an art form, and can be ANY genre - from sci-fi to western to abstract and experimental - the sky is the limit!

17. Seek a little discomfort

It’s easy to get into a comfortable routine and not really challenge yourself but we’ve found that a little discomfort can be a good thing. Experimenting and pushing yourself to try something new helps you learn. If you want to move up the ladder you sometimes have to ask for opportunities and responsibilities that might scare you a little. It’s good to go outside your comfort zone and see how far you can push yourself.

18. You will watch a lot of films, you will read a lot of books, you will look at a lot of art

This is part and parcel of what you signed up for and if you have a curious mind you will go a long way!

19. You will need to have patience

Animation takes a long time to create from start to finish. There are many, many steps in the animation pipeline and it can often be many months/years after the original development work before you see the final output. But seeing the final rendered result is one of the most satisfying things about the job, there is a real sense of teamwork and achievement seeing the work on the screen. And seeing the audience reaction.

20. No two days are ever truly the same

Every project we’ve worked on has been really different and varied, and each one has required its own unique approach, so there’s always a new experience which is quite exciting. There are always new techniques to discover or problems to solve which can be challenging but also incredibly rewarding for those who like variety!

21. Be your own cheerleader

The creative world can be competitive and sometimes it can all get a little overwhelming. Remember to work hard and be nice to those who cheer you on, but also learn how to cheer yourself on. Never compare your path to someone else's. Every creative navigates at their own pace and route to get to where they need to be.

And just because someone else is succeeding it doesn't mean that you are failing. Everyone in the creative industry is working hard every day to grow and improve.

22. Allow yourself to make mistakes

Mistakes are a part of life. It’s only through this process of making and correcting mistakes that we learn to improve and avoid making them in the future. It's constant trial and error.

23. Don’t be afraid to ask for help

There are no stupid questions. Sometimes we get stuck and need a helping hand. Asking for feedback/advice can often help get us out of our rut. In our experience, more often than not, people have been more than willing to help when they can.

24. Remember you work in animation!

Is there anything better than creating cartoons? We work surrounded by toys, colour and creativity. We bring ideas, stories, and characters to life.

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That what we do here can reach people from all over the world and bring them happiness and enjoyment is pretty incredible. Also, that maybe they will recognise a bit of themselves in what we create is its own kind of wonderful!

25. And most importantly, have FUN in whatever you do!

We certainly do and it has made for 25 EPIC years.

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Anahita Tabarsi

Anahita is Brown Bag Films' Digital Marketing Manager and drinks more than five coffees a day...

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